AGRICULTURE BENEFITS EVERYONE
Last week, as Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, I convened a hearing in Staunton to hear from Virginia farmers about the issues they face in operating their farms in today's environment. I was joined by 13 members of the Agriculture Committee, from around the country, and more than 250 local farmers and interested members of the at the hearing. This was the ninth in a series of hearings to review the 2002 Farm Bill which expires in September 2007.
Although the term "farm bill" leads many to believe that this large piece of legislation only addresses farm issues such as commodities and livestock, the actual bill covers a wide variety of issues. The 2002 Farm Bill authorized funding and programs for agricultural issues involving trade, nutrition, rural development, credit, research, forestry, energy, and conservation. As you can see, U.S. agricultural policy is particularly diverse and the scope of American agriculture is far-reaching.
Agriculture is a vital part of Virginia's economy generating approximately $36 billion annually in total sales for the state. Together, agriculture and forestry are Virginia's number one industry, contributing more than $47 billion to the state economy annually and representing more than 15 percent of total employment.
The Sixth District, which includes the Shenandoah Valley and parts of central and southwest Virginia, contributes significantly to the state's agriculture output. The Sixth District is one of the leading turkey and poultry producing districts in the nation and ranks among the top 100 in fruit, cattle, dairy products, sheep, corn, and barely production. In addition to being one of the most beautiful landscapes in the country, this region is also one of the most agriculturally diverse. From corn and grains to vineyards and livestock to forestry products, the Sixth District has a vibrant agricultural economy.
Through the farm bill hearings, the Agriculture Committee has heard from roughly 120 farmers and ranchers. However, with more than 47,000 farms in Virginia alone, and hundreds of thousands more that benefit from Virginia agriculture everyday, there is a significant number of people we have not heard from. In early spring, I launched a feedback form on the Agriculture Committee's website to provide everyone the opportunity to comment on current and future farm policy. So far, we've received feedback from over 550 farmers and others.
While not everyone is a farmer, everyone is benefited by American agriculture. If you drive a car, eat food, play sports, read a newspaper or wear socks, you are involved in American agriculture. I encourage everyone to visit the website, http://agriculture.house.gov, click on the farm bill feedback form, and let us know what you think. Your comments will be shared with all of the members of the Agriculture Committee and will be especially helpful as we begin the farm bill debate next year.